38 days

Grand Silk Explorer

Grand Silk Explorer

Khiva's thousands of years of history

The Chashma beneath the fortress of Alexander the Great in Nurata

Chorsu Bazaar of Tashkent - one of the largest and oldest farmers' markets in Central Asia

Bukhara

Central Asia’s holiest city - UNESCO World Heritage-listed Bukhara

Traditional central Asian yurt stay near the mud-walled Ayaz Kala ruins on the edge of the Kyzyl-Kum Desert

Sentab village - guesthouse stay in a UN Development Program project in the Nuratau-Kyzylkum Biosphere Reserve

UNESCO World Heritage-listed 5th Century BC Samarkand - the crossroads of cultures, religions, peoples and languages

Yurt stay at Son-Kul Lake

Burana Tower of ancient Balasagun

UNESCO World Heritage-listed Buddhist murals of Mogao Caves

The Forbidden City

Torugart Pass

Kochkorka homestay

The 'hot lake' of Issyk-Kul

Kashgar - the Silk Road capital of the Uyghurs

Kyrgyzstan's capital Bishkek

Trip rating
  • For those who have dreamt of the ancient Silk Road, this journey offers the ultimate adventure! For centuries travellers in the pursuit of trade and knowledge have crossed the deserts of Western China, scaled the mountain passes of Kyrgyzstan and marvelled at the turquoise-domed architecture of Uzbekistan. From bustling Beijing to the sleepier Uzbek capital of Tashkent, we travel through lands once conquered by mighty leaders such as Alexander the Great and Genghis Khan. Prepare to be swept up by colourful local hospitality, to sample life as a steppe-dwelling nomad and to be humbled by vast desert and mountain landscapes. The highlights of this journey are as diverse as the people we will meet – explore the thriving Kashgar bazaars, stay in yurts like Kyrgyz nomads, meet local families in the mountains and uncover a world little changed in centuries.

    Why we love it

    • For those who have dreamt of the ancient Silk Road, this journey offers the ultimate adventure.
    • For centuries travellers in the pursuit of trade and knowledge have crossed the deserts of Western China, scaled the mountain passes of Kyrgyzstan and marvelled at the turquoise-domed architecture of Uzbekistan.
    • From bustling Beijing to the sleepier Uzbek capital of Tashkent, you will travel through lands once conquered by mighty leaders such as Alexander the Great and Genghis Khan.
    • Prepare to be swept up by colourful local hospitality, to sample life as a steppe-dwelling nomad and to be humbled by vast desert and mountain landscapes.
    • The highlights of this journey are diverse - explore the thriving Kashgar bazaars, stay in yurts with Kyrgyz nomads, meet local families in the mountains and uncover a world little changed in centuries.

    Itinerary

    Day 1 - Beijing

    • On arrival in Beijing you will be transferred to your hotel. In the early evening you will meet your tour leader and the other group members for a pre-tour briefing. This is generally followed by an optional group dinner at a local restaurant - Peking Duck is a popular choice.

    Dong Fang Hotel or similar

    Day 2-3 - Beijing - overnight train

    • Beijing offers endless opportunities for exploration. The enormous Forbidden City, built more than 500 years ago and off limits to commoners for almost all of that time, is a truly amazing place. Its size might surprise you (it is huge!), but what makes it fascinating is that every square metre is carefully detailed, ranging from intricately carved walkways to colourful, painted ceilings.

    • The Temple of Heaven is another fine example of extraordinary workmanship which we also visit on Day 2.
    • You will travel to Mutianyu on Day 3, one of the best-preserved sections of the Great Wall. This section used to serve as the northern barrier defending the capital and the imperial tombs. Being perched on this incredible engineering feat and surveying the spectacular surrounding countryside is an unforgettable experience.
    • There is also ample free time built in to the itinerary, allowing you to make your own discoveries.
    • In the evening, you will have the chance to enjoy a performance of the unique Beijing Opera (optional).
    • You will leave Beijing on an overnight train, travelling in soft sleeper class (four-berth compartments). The approx 14-hour trip is a great opportunity for your group to get to know each other and meet local travellers.

    Dong Fang Hotel or similar
    Breakfast

    Day 4-5 - Xian - Overnight Train

    • Xian is a wonderful place to explore. Food options are excellent here, ranging from delicious Muslim fare to dumplings and street food. Widely regarded as the first capital of a united China in 221 BC, the city is rich in history.

    • A tour to the renowned Terracotta Warriors with a local guide introduces you to these entombed statues, considered one of the most important archaeological finds of the 20th Century. Over 6000 of them were individually sculpted from clay, each with a different costume, height, and even facial expression. They are standing in battle formation, facing east in order to protect the tomb of China's first emperor, the great Qin Shihuang. In 1974, farmers digging a well discovered the underground vault, which was home to this army for two millennium.
    • Xian also has a wonderful Muslim Quarter. Free time can be spent wandering the narrow streets where you can find quaint shops, lively markets, groups of white-bearded men in skull caps sipping tea in little cafes, and the Great Mosque, one of the most unique and important in China.
    • In the late afternoon of Day 5, you will catch the overnight sleeper train to Lanzhou.

    Union Alliance Hotel or similar
    Breakfast

    Day 6-8 - Lanzhou - Xiahe - Overnight Train

    • After an early arrival (approx 6:30 am) in Lanzhou, the capital of Gansu Province, you will be transferred by bus and travel to Bingling Temple to view some fascinating Buddhist caves.

    • Your journey continues on to Xiahe, a major centre for Tibetan Lamaism. You will spend two nights in this amazing remote town set in a beautiful mountain valley, with the highlight being a visit to the impressive 18th century Labrang Monastery. There are many monks walking around the streets, some of who are on pilgrimage from Greater Tibet.
    • You will travel back to Lanzhou by bus and board another overnight sleeper train bound for Jiayuguan.

    Overseas Tibetan Hotel or similar
    Breakfast

    Day 9 - Jiayuguan

    • Upon entering the Hexi Corridor, you will travel on a strip of desert surrounded by mountains on both sides.

    • You will arrive in the early afternoon at Jiayuguan (Jiayu Pass), the last outpost on the edge of the ancient Han Chinese Empire, and visit Jiayuguan Fort, which marks the end of the Great Wall. The heavily industrialised modern town stands in stark contrast to the desert scenery.
    • You will also visit the Hanging Wall (another section of the Great Wall) and the Wei-Jin Dynasty Tombs.

    Tiandong Hotel or similar

    Day 10-11 - Dunhuang - Overnight Train

    • You will journey across the desert landscape by bus to the oasis of Dunhuang, another important stop on the Silk Road. After a night in Dunhuang, you will get up to experience the sunrise over desert sand dunes and see Crescent Lake. Nearby are the stunning Mogao Caves, which house some of the best Buddhist murals in the world. The first cave was carved out and painted in 366 AD, but they had been largely forgotten until a Taoist monk stumbled upon them in 1907. Currently there are more than 492 caves, most containing murals, and over 2,415 coloured statues, in an area covering more than 45,000 square metres. Central in every cave are the painted mural.

    • After Mogao, you will catch a bus to Liuyuan and transfer to another overnight sleeper train.

    Feitian Hotel or similar
    Breakfast

    Day 12 - Turpan

    • After arriving in Daheyan, the closest train station to Turpan, you will travel by road for 50 minutes to the delightful oasis city of Turpan.

    • The Turpan Depression is second only to the Dead Sea in Jordan as the lowest point on earth. The temperature soars here to an average of as much as 40C during summer. It is a small city by Chinese standards, but the surrounding area is full of interesting places such as Gaocheng and Jiaohe - once great cities on the Silk Road. Once upon a time, Gaocheng was the capital of the Uyghur people and the ruins here are very impressive, with the temples, pagodas and courtyards still distinguishable even though they were abandoned over 700 years ago. The Astana Graves nearby are where the dead from the ancient city were buried. Another famous Buddhist site found on the western side of the Flaming Mountains is the Bezeklik Thousand Buddha Caves. Unfortunately most of the artworks were removed or destroyed, so the caves are just a sad reminder of their former glories and not comparable to Mogao. At 44 metres high, the Emin Minaret is the tallest in China. It was built in 1777 to honour a local general, Emin Khoja.

    Turpan Hotel or similar

    Day 13 - Turpan - Urumqi

    • Turpan is well known for its seedless, white variety of grapes grown in the surrounding fields. To provide irrigation to this arid land, the local people have devised a unique subterranean waterway. The Karez are fed from melted snow and conducted to the channels that wind their way beneath the desert.

    • The ancient city of Jiaohe is located 10 kilometres west of town and covers an extensive area. Dating from around 108 BC, this once-busy city was destroyed by Genghis Khan’s Mongol army in the 13th century.
    • Next you will drive to Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. This is a multi-national province with many languages, customs and colourful ethnic traditions. It is also China's gateway to Central Asia, with air links to all the former Soviet republics, and it is widely regarded as the city farthest from the ocean.

    Urumqi Hotel or similar
    Breakfast

    Day 14 - Urumqi - Kashgar

    • From Urumqi you will drive out to visit the Heavenly Lake (Tianchi), which resembles a little piece of Swiss alpine scenery with hills covered by fir trees and the area dotted with Kazakh settlements. The local people live in tent-like structures made from animal skin, known as yurts. In winter the road becomes impassable due to snow.

    • Returning to Urumqi, you will visit the large and fascinating Xinjiang Autonomous Region Museum, which houses an amazing collection of Silk Road artifacts and treasures including some incredibly well preserved mummified bodies.
    • In the evening you will fly across the Taklamakan Desert to Kashgar, one of the biggest and oldest cities on the Silk Road.

    Yanbul Hotel or similar
    Breakfast

    Day 15 - Kashgar

    • Still an important trading centre and developing at an astounding pace, Kashgar is situated at an altitude of 1289 metres at the end of the spectacular Karakoram Highway. It first fell into Chinese hands nearly 1000 years ago when explorations along the Silk Road opened the area to trade. When the Han Dynasty collapsed, an interregnum followed until the town was captured briefly for the Tang Dynasty before falling again, this time into Arab hands. The great Genghis Khan occupied the city in 1219 and Marco Polo was reputedly a visitor here in 1265. With the downfall of the Mongols, the town was incorporated into Amir Timur's empire before entering another period of instability, this time lasting 350 years. The colourful Sunday Market (actually open every day, but busiest on Sundays) sees the town come alive with traders selling goods from near and far. It is a photographer's dream with the endless stream of fascinating faces and varied goods on sale.

    • Outside of the city is the Animal Bazaar. At time of writing this market was being relocated and it is uncertain as to how modernised or accessible for travellers it will become.
    • You will also take a city tour that includes the Abakh Hoja Tomb, the Id Kah Mosque and the (fast-disappearing) old town.

    Yanbul Hotel or similar
    Breakfast

    Day 16-17 - Torugart Pass - Tash-Rabat

    • You will have an early start today as you head up into the mountains and across the Torugart Pass (3752m).
    • This ancient gateway takes you through some spectacular scenery. The drive takes about four hours, the second part of this will be on unpaved roads.
    • This is a relatively taxing day, and you should be prepared for some bumpy, windy roads – there is no cause for concern though, our drivers are extremely experienced and will make your safety their priority at all times.
    • Depending on the time of year you travel, there may still be snow as you approach the Pass, and it's possible there will be some delays due to poor road conditions after the winter.
    • Please make sure you have a warm jacket on hand – the temperature will drop noticeably in comparison to the desert where Kashgar is situated.
    • A basic packed lunch will be provided before you leave Kashgar (your Chinese tour leader will arrange this), but you may wish to prepare some additional snacks and drinks.
    • You will reach Chinese customs (at an elevation of approximately 2000m) before heading into no-man's land for a further 70kms. At the next checkpoint you will say goodbye to your Chinese hosts as they introduce you to your Kyrgyz team, who will escort us through Kyrgyz border formalities.
    • Today you must be patient – as you will see, this is a very remote and unsophisticated border point, and the custom and immigration processes can be tedious.
    • There are no money changing facilities here, but this does not present a problem, as there is nowhere to spend money until you reach the next town and the bank.
    • Most nationalities no longer require a visa for Kyrgyzstan, but this situation can always change and formalities still need to be completed.
    • Once all the paperwork is completed, you will continue on to the beautiful 13th century caravansarai at Tash-Rabat. There is plenty of time to relax here with a free day to enjoy trekking in the area, or simply enjoy the stunning setting of your yurt camp.
    • Please be aware that the camps are set up and dismantled (in nomadic tradition) according to weather conditions and the progress of the seasons. A yurt is more sophisticated than a tent, but still relatively basic accommodation.
    • Generally the group will share two to three yurts (usually five to six people per yurt), with the yurts are designated as singles or couples, and male or female, or divided in another way according to the wishes of the group. If you have a particular request or concern about the sleeping arrangements, please speak to your tour leader.
    • The yurt camps do not have shower facilities, but will have access to water and a private area for washing. The toilets are 'out-house' style, located at a distance away from the yurts. Please ensure you bring a torch with you (head-torches are particularly useful!).
    • In each yurt you will find wooden beds with mattresses fitted with sheets and blankets. These mattresses are more like thin futons rather than traditional mattresses.
    • If there has been an especially long winter, it is possible that the first groups of the year may be accommodated at a lower altitude for comfort, however a stop at Tashrabat to visit the caravanserai will still be included.
    • Whatever time of year you travel, we strongly recommend you pack layers and a lightweight set of thermals to ensure you are comfortable, particularly at night.
    • Your hosts may have small souvenirs for sale, but will accept US dollars or Euros, so it's worth having some small denomination notes prepared for this purpose.
    Yurt Camp ( Dostuk) or similar
    Breakfast | Lunch | Dinner

    Day 18-19 - Son-Kul Lake

    • After breakfast you will drive to Son-Kul Lake, a beautiful spot where many nomadic herders choose to make their summer camp. With gentle pastures set against a backdrop of dramatic mountains, this is the perfect place for an afternoon hike - perhaps dropping in on a local family along the way.
    • You will stay for two more nights in traditional felt tents (yurts) and sample some traditional dishes from your Kyrgyz hosts. Please note there is no shower facilities in this location. Please bring along wipes or a face-washer to stay fresh.
    • Again the bedding in a yurt consists of layers of mattresses (like thin futons, but not a traditional bed) and layers of blankets/covers that are stacked during the day to give space, then built up for each person at bedtime (the camp staff will usually assist with this).
    • You will usually be sleeping in close proximity to each other, so a pair of earplugs and an eye-mask are well worth packing.
    • Son-Kul Lake is located off the main roads, so you will be subject to local conditions – it is unlikely that you will be unable to reach the lake, but should the drivers feel it is unsafe to attempt the pass, you will stay with nomads in an area of equal beauty and interest instead.
    Yurt Camp ( U Baisha ) or similar
    Breakfast | Lunch | Dinner

    Day 20 - Kochkor

    • From Son-Kul's pastures you will wind your way across country towards the village of Kochkorka.
    • Here local families will welcome you, they will be your genial hosts for the night. By using these homestays, you are supporting a community-run initiative, but the pleasure will be all yours with fabulous home-cooked meals and a unique insight into everyday life in a Kyrgyz town.
    • The ladies take pride in their hospitality, and you should feel free to tuck into the extensive range of dishes provided – at the very least, you should try to sample all of the delicious jams and preserves on offer.
    • According to Central Asian tradition, guests are to be treated with the greatest respect, given their freedom of the hosts' home, and allowed total privacy – we encourage the host families to interact, but they will appreciate some encouragement.
    • Once the family photos are brought out, it generally doesn't take long for mothers and grandmothers to be swapping notes and admiring pictures. It's not necessary to tip the families (they receive payment for their hosting) but if you wish to give a gift of some kind, try to think of something personalised – a postcard from your home or a photo of you and your family for example.
    • Many of the husbands and sons of the village are working in the cities, or in Russia, to provide an income for their families – this is why you will tend to see only the very youngest and the very eldest of the men-folk around.
    • You will also have the opportunity in Kochkorka to observe the Kyrgyz art of felt making.
    • You will take in a shydak-making show, shyrdak being a richly decorated Kyrgyz carpet. This method of carpet making requires the ramming and rolling of different coloured wool into felt.
    • A traditional method, it is passed on to child from mother and has been around for many hundreds of years. There are variations of this in many different parts of Central Asia.
    Kochkorka Village Family Home stay or similar
    Breakfast | Lunch | Dinner

    Day 21 - Barskoön Gorge - Tamga

    • You will have a more leisurely day today, as you get your first glimpses of turquoise Lake Issy-Kul and explore the Barskoön Gorge on foot.
    • Your day will be relaxed and you will share a picnic lunch in these idyllic surrounds.
    • You will continue this evening to another simple guesthouse at Tamga village on the southern shore. From here it is a short stroll to the local beach, where a spectacular view of mountain peaks and clear blue water awaits you.
    • The brave might want to consider a dip in the lake, but be warned that the locals you see swimming here are used to the icy temperatures, with glacial streams feeding the lake from the high mountains that you have recently left behind.
    Village Guesthouse or similar
    Breakfast | Lunch | Dinner

    Day 22-23 - Lake Issyk-Kul

    • Over the next two days you will follow the shore of this impressive lake - so large it never freezes, hence the name Issyk-Kul - meaning 'hot lake' in the local language.
    • You will travel from Tamga via the iconic red sandstone formations of Jeti-Öghüz Canyon, to Karakol, where traditional wooden houses are laid out European style.
    • Tonight you will stay in a local guesthouse. Dinner is not included this evening, so you can take the opportunity to wander into town and try out a local restaurant.
    • The next day you will continue along the north shore to Cholpon-Ata, site of ancient petroglyphs – if time permits, you will stop to look, but there will be a lengthy drive to arrive at your final destination tonight at Chong-Kemin.
    • This long valley lies at altitudes of between 1400 metres and 2800 metres above sea level, and reaches over 80km deep into the mountains between the Kungey Ala-Too and Zailii ranges, parallel to the Kazakh border.
    • It has verdant pastures, woodland (of Tian-Shan firs), mountain lakes (Jamalysh, Kogor, Tor, Almaty and Kichi-Kemin amongst them) and spectacular views of the surrounding mountains.
    • You will stay overnight at a small guesthouse in this beautiful setting.
    Village Guesthouse or similar
    Breakfast | Lunch | Dinner

    Day 24-25 - Chong-Kemin - Bishkek

    • After breakfast you will start on the road to Bishkek. Along the way you will stop at the 11th century Burana Tower, a minaret in the old city of Balasagun. This was the centre of state during the reign of the Karakhanids, once-great feudal rulers of Central Asia.
    • After joining a local family for lunch, you will arrive in Bishkek. The following morning you will have an introductory city tour to show you the sights of the capital including the National Museum and Gallery.
    • The afternoon will be left free for you to shop, explore or simply relax. Bishkek is a small but very pleasant capital, easily explored on foot, or using local taxis.
    • You will also find plenty of Internet cafes, something rarely found in the countryside.
    • It is a good idea to advise friends and family that you will be out of contact between Kashgar and Bishkek so they are not concerned if they don't hear from you for a few days.
    Asia Mountains or similar
    Breakfast | Lunch

    Day 26 - Tashkent

    • You will fly from Bishkek to the Uzbek capital, Tashkent, this morning. On arrival at Tashkent, be ready for hustle and bustle and prepare some assertiveness, as this airport is infamous for being exhausting in its arrival formalities.
    • There is no cause for concern, however it can take quite some time for the whole group to make it through so please be patient. You will need to complete two customs declaration forms, one will be kept by the Customs Officer on arrival, the second must be kept for your departure, when you will fill out a third one for comparison, having spent your money and hopefully bought some souvenirs that you will now declare.
    • If the forms are in Russian, we will find an example in English on display somewhere in the area. Match the fields up – the Customs Officer will check it and clarify if necessary.
    • Please keep this form somewhere safe as it will be required when you exit the country, as will the small 'Registration' slip that your Tashkent hotel will give you.
    • Although these registration slips may appear inconsequential (often just a rubber stamp on a small bit of paper) they form a record of where you have been staying and failure to present them can result in difficulties with immigration on departure.
    • Having met your Uzbek tour leader at the airport, you will make the short journey to your hotel, and the rest of the day will be free.
    • In this cosmopolitan city there is a plentiful choice of restaurants and activities for a final evening's entertainment.
    • Your journey will come to an end on Day 14 (Fri) after breakfast.
    Uzbekistan Hotel or similar
    Breakfast

    Day 27 - Tashkent

    • You will spend a full day exploring charming Tashkent on a city tour.
    • A highlight of a trip to Tashkent is exploring the Chorsu Bazaar, one of the largest and oldest markets in central Asia.
    • Wandering through the giant market is a fantastic way to see locals going about their daily lives. Uzbeks are some of the friendliest people in the world and you will find yourself chatting to many locals who are keen to get to know you.
    • Be sure to try some of the fresh produce on offer, it’s a great place to find some quirky Uzbek souvenirs.
    • After wandering through the bazaar, you will start to explore some of the rich cultural history of Uzbekistan, including the 16th century Kulkedash Medressa – an Islamic school that sits beside the 15th century Juma (Friday) Mosque.
    • The History Museum of the People of Uzbekistan will offer you a great introduction to the country and the region in general, from the Silk Road era to Soviet times.
    • Amir Timur Square is the main square in town and used to contain a statue of Karl Marx, but a statue of Uzbekistan’s 14th century national hero, Timur, on horseback, has replaced him.
    • A tour of Tashkent’s metro system reveals to us some strikingly beautiful stations, but please note that you are not permitted to take photos in the subway.
    • The Bara-Khon Medressa is the headquarters of the Sunni Muslim religion in the region and has interesting mosaics and Arabic calligraphy that dates back to the late 16th century.
    • After a full day of sightseeing and getting to know the people of Uzbekistan, you can relax at one of the city's many cosmopolitan restaurants or see a ballet or opera at the stunning National Theatre.
    Uzbekistan Hotel or similar
    Breakfast

    Day 28 - Khiva

    • This morning will be a very early start, as you will be leaving the hotel to be transferred to the airport, where you’ll catch a flight to Urgench.
    • Once you land, you will be picked up by a private vehicle and driven to the fabled city of Khiva.
    • A settlement was established here by the 8th century AD and began to flourish in the early 16th century. A colourful procession of conquering khans, Silk Road traders, Great Game spies and Russian invaders has long captured the imagination of writers and poets.
    • It is also a photographer's delight, particularly in the evenings when the sun begins to set. This beautifully preserved town is perfect for exploring on foot, with impressive walls that mark the boundaries of the old city.
    • Upon entering through its gates you will be greeted by towering minarets and numerous medressas. Your guide takes you through many of these monuments including the Kalta Minor Minaret and Mohammed Rakhim Khan Medressa, the 17th century Juma Mosque, the Islom-Hoja Minaret and Medressa (built in 1908 and the highest structure in Khiva), the Kuhna Ark, which was the main fortress, the Pahlavon Mahmud Mausoleum complex (the Persian-style resting place of Khiva’s patron saint) and Toza Bog Palace, which between 1893-1913 was the summer palace of Mohammed Rakhim Khan II.
    Malila or Isaak Guesthouse
    Breakfast

    Day 29 - Khiva - Ayaz Qala

    • Khiva is enchanting at dawn, with its empty streets and the weight of thousands of years of history omnipresent. An early-morning stroll is well worthwhile, so we highly recommend you make the effort to see sunrise while you’re here.
    • You will enjoy a free morning to further explore Khiva before embarking on an 80 kilometre journey to Ayaz Qala (Ayaz Kala), northeast of Khiva on the fringes of the Kyzyl-Kum Desert.
    • Ayaz Qala and its sister ruins of Toprak Qala are relics of the Khorezm towns that existed here in the Amu-Darya Delta some 2000 years ago.
    • You will spend the day exploring the area, seeing sights like the impressive Toprak Qala, settled in 1st century BC and the capital by the 3rd century.
    • Your desert adventure continues this evening as you stay in traditional Central Asian yurts and swap tales under the stars.
    Yurt or similar
    Breakfast | Dinner

    Day 30 - Bukhara

    • You will leave very early today and drive 450 kilometres to Bukhara.
    • Along the way you’ll travel through the Kyzyl-Kum (Red Sands Desert), the largest desert area in central Asia and inhabited by various nomadic people.
    • You will also meet the Amu Darya River, which was once known as the Oxus. This river bubbles up far to the south-east in the Pamirs and then runs west through the area now bordering modern Afghanistan - once famous throughout the ancient world for its lapis-lazuli mines.
    • With the impressive sights of Bukhara and Samarkand ahead of you, this long journey is an ideal opportunity to catch up on some reading, or simply sit back and imagine you are a trader - relieved to have made it safely through the desert!
    • You will arrive in the holy city of Bukhara and enjoy a free afternoon to absorb its ambience.
    • Trading domes near here still offer an intriguing and colourful array of goods including embroideries, jewelry, spices, handicrafts and all manner of Silk Road treasures.
    • This is the place to test your haggling skills, as well as share a joke or two with friendly local merchants. This is truly a magical place and it is sure to cast its spell on you too.
    Atlas or Lyabi Guesthouse
    Breakfast | Lunch

    Day 31 - Bukhara

    • A UNESCO World Heritage-listed site, Bukhara is widely regarded as Central Asia’s holiest city. With more than one hundred officially preserved monuments, there is a lot to see and you have an extensive sightseeing program here spread over two days to make the most of your time.
    • With many monuments dating from the 8th to the 18th century AD, there is a vast span of history and architecture to uncover and the meticulous restoration of many of the mosaic and majolica decorations give you a true sense of how these buildings looked in their original glory.
    • You will start by visiting the ruins of the Ark Fortress. Dating back to the 5th century AD, it is the ancient heart of the city and the scene of several gruesome events.
    • Today you will also endeavor to visit Bolo-Khauz Mosque, which dates back to 1718 and was the emirs’ official place of worship, the Ismail Samani Mausoleum, resting place of the founder of the Saminid Dynasty, the Chashma Ayub Mausoleum, the imposing Poikalon complex (comprising the Kalon Minaret, Kalon Mosque and Mir-i-Arab Medressa), and Ulugbek and Abdul Aziz Khan Medressa.
    • The twilight hours lend themselves to wandering the areas around the Lyabi-Hauz Pool, a central gathering place where you can enjoy a traditional ‘chaikhana’ (tea-house) style dinner (optional).
    Atlas or Lyabi Guesthouse
    Breakfast

    Day 32 - Bukhara

    • You will start the second full day of sightseeing in Bukhara on a different note, visiting the Tim Abdulla Khan. Built in 1577, this is one of the most elegant medressas.
    • All manner of things can be found on sale in the covered bazaars. There are three of these trading domes left and you will wander through in search of bargains and experiencing the spirit of trade, which has driven this region since the halcyon days of the Silk Road era.
    • In the midst of these bazaars is the Maghoki-Attar, reputed to be the oldest mosque in central Asia. Sitorai Mohi Hosa means star and garnet garden, and was the summer palace of the last emir.
    • Its opulence is also reflected in the combination of local and European influences in its designs and furnishings. The halls are richly decorated with carpets and paintings.
    • The evening is again free to explore Bukhara’s by night.
    Atlas or Lyabi Guesthouse
    Breakfast

    Day 33-34 - Nuratau Mountains - Samarkand

    • With regret, you will leave captivating Bukhara and continue east towards Samarkand.
    • Your next destination is Nurata, formerly known as Nur and founded in the 3rd century BC by Alexander the Great.
    • This ancient town was once regarded as the frontier between the cultivated lands and the steppes, and the ruins of Alexander’s hilltop citadel stand testament to its ancient history.
    • The city was also an important Muslim place of pilgrimage, reaching its peak in the 10th century AD as devotees flocked to its many significant graves and memorials. You will visit the Chashma, a complex of religious constructions that serves as the central point for such pilgrimages.
    • After lunching in a local teahouse you will continue on to the Nuratau-Kyzylkum Biosphere Reserve just south of Aiderkul Lake. You may change to smaller vehicles here to navigate the narrow local roads as you climb into the mountains to reach one of the tiny villages.
    • You will be staying in either Sentab, Forish, Asraf or Uhum village. Here, as part of a UN Development Program project, local families have established small private guesthouses and welcome visitors to their homes.
    • As our hosts are ethnic Tajiks, this is a unique opportunity to hear another regional language, eat delicious home-cooked local specialities, and see the day-to-day life of the village.
    • Accommodation is in the traditional style - the group will sleep on mattresses in communal rooms (usually divided by gender), a similar experience to staying in a yurt. The bathroom facilities are also basic, but manageable - with very simple shower and toilet arrangements.
    • Such things are minor inconveniences though, as you lounge on ‘tapchan’ (day beds) under the walnut trees, with the sound of the stream running nearby, and an once-in-a-lifetime cultural exchange unfolds.
    • This is the perfect place to relax, or for those wanting to stretch their legs there are numerous local walking trails nearby which your hosts will be happy to show you.
    • You have more time to relax the following morning. After lunch you will depart on the drive to Samarkand.
    Homestay or similar
    Breakfast | Lunch | Dinner

    Day 35 - Samarkand

    • You will enjoy two days of sightseeing and exploration in Samarkand, a city that evokes the romance of the Silk Road perhaps more than any other.
    • From its foundation in the 5th century BC, Samarkand has been a centre of artisans and traders as well as the prize for many a conquering army. From Alexander the Great who stormed its walls in 329 BC, to the Soviet occupiers who declared it the original capital of the Uzbek SSR in 1924, Samarkand’s history is as rich as it is complex.
    • Today you will visit the Gur Amir Mausoleum, the final resting place of the mighty Timur and his sons and grandsons. For a man of his stature, it is quite a simple tomb.
    • A highlight of the trip is standing on the iconic Registan Square with the three medressas (Ulugbek, Sher Dor and Tilla-Kari) towering over you.
    • You will complete your tour for the day with a visit to a handicraft centre before enjoying a free afternoon to wander around and make your own discoveries in this special place.
    Zarina or Caravan Guesthouse
    Breakfast

    Day 36 - Samarkand

    • After breakfast you will embark on another half-day sightseeing tour.
    • Close to the Registan is the Bibi-Khanym Mosque, built by Timur. It is often compared to the Taj Mahal as it was built as a grand and timeless symbol of a man's love for his wife.
    • This mosque overlooks the busy and colourful Siob Bazaar, where photographers will delight in taking photos of the many bustling stalls and the huge array of produce, as well as encountering friendly greetings from the local traders.
    • Your next stop is the Shah-i-Zinda Mausoleum complex. Also known as the ‘Town of the Dead’ this is a row of more than 20 mausoleums, some of them with stunningly colourful tile work.
    • Ulugbek was an emir in the early 15th century, but he was also a renowned astronomer. The discovery of the ruins of his observatory tells of an amazing story from a bygone era.
    • This afternoon is left free for you to enjoy just a little more time in Samarkand. You might like to visit to the local bazaar where you can sample delicious fresh produce, or you may prefer to return to the many stalls nestled in the Registan Ensemble to find that perfect souvenir.
    Zarina or Caravan Guesthouse
    Breakfast

    Day 37-38 - Samarkand - Tashkent

    • Your adventure in Uzbekistan is almost complete as you leave Samarkand and drive five hours to return to the capital for your final night.
    • You will enjoy a free afternoon in Tashkent and tonight you can choose to gather for an optional farewell dinner to mark the end of your travels together, and to reflect on all you have seen.
    • The trip will come to an end in Tashkent after breakfast on the morning of Day 38.
    Uzbekistan Hotel or similar
    Breakfast
  • What to Know

    What's Included

    • An experienced, English-speaking local Peregrine leader and specialist local guides at some sites
    • Authentic Accommodation includes: 6 nights basic hotel, 17 nights comfortable hotel, 4 nights sleeper train, 3 nights homestay, 2 nights guesthouse, 5 nights yurt tent (multi-share)
    • Central Asian homestays in rural Kyrgyzstan and the Nuratau Mountains, yurt stays in the mountains and desert
    • Meals: 34 breakfasts, 13 lunches, 10 dinners
    • Arrival transfer
    • Flights from Urumqi to Kashgar, Bishkek to Tashkent and Tashkent to Urgench (Khiva)
    • Sightseeing and entrance fees as per itinerary: including Temple of Heaven, Fobidden City, Terracotta Warriors, City tours of Bukhara, Samarkand, Tashkent & Khiva
    • Stunning desert and mountain landscapes in China, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan
    • Walk the Great Wall at Mutianyu and Jiayuguan
    • Tashkent to Urgench (Khiva) flight
    • Visa support for China & Uzbekistan

    Not Included

    • International flights
    • Airport departure taxes
    • Departure transfer
    • Visas
    • Meals unless specified in the itinerary
    • Insurance
    • Laundry - may be available at locations where we stay two or more nights
    • Optional tours or activities during free time
    • Tips - this is something to consider, and it might be worthwhile speaking to your group about making a group contribution at the end of the trip
    • Sleeping sheets or bags (optional)

    Safety Information

    CHINA

    On 22 May a suspected bomb attack took place on a crowded street in Urumqi, Xinjiang province, with reports of over 30 killed. This follows a bomb and knife attack in Urumqi’s South Railway station on 30 April which killed 3 people and injured 79. 

     

    No Peregrine travellers were in the area at the time. Security throughout Xinjiang province is high and Peregrine groups visiting Urumqi will continue to avoid highly populated areas. 

    China is a safe country to travel in and very few travellers will experience any safety concerns. Serious crime against foreigners is relatively rare, but incidents do occur. Foreigners can be targeted for passports, laptops, mobile phones, purses and handbags. Major tourist sites and areas frequented by foreigners attract thieves and pickpockets. Take extra care at major tourist sites, street markets, Beijing International Airport, major international events and conferences and popular bar areas after dark.

    There are occasional incidents with taxi and pedicab drivers who insist the passenger misunderstood the fare. Avoid travelling in unmarked or unmetered ‘taxis’ and insist on paying only the meter fare. Ask the driver for a receipt (fapiao), on which the taxi number should be printed. You can take this to the police to lodge a complaint.

    Counterfeit bank notes (especially RMB100) are increasingly common. They are generally crumpled to avoid detection. Unscrupulous traders may try to switch your genuine bank notes for counterfeits. Check carefully before accepting notes. It is quite normal to do so.

    Beware of scams particularly in popular tourist areas. A regular example is the ‘tea tasting’ scam. Scams usually involve a foreign national being invited to visit a bar, shop or cafe – for example to practice English or meet a girl - but results in demands for an exorbitant fee, often payable by credit card. This can result in threats of violence or credit card fraud.

    Fire protection standards in Chinese accommodation are not always the same as at home. Check fire precautions including access to fire exits.

    KYRGYZSTAN

    Few travellers will experience any safety issues in Kyrgyzstan if general precautions are followed. Take care if you go out after dark. Keep large amounts of money hidden at all times and be wary of strangers offering help or being over-friendly. Be particularly aware of your surroundings when using currency exchange offices. There have been reports of thefts carried out by uniformed police officers and gangs. Avoid walking alone at night and don’t travel in unofficial taxis. Avoid using local buses and mini-buses as they are not always properly maintained and are notorious for pick-pockets. Demonstrations on political and socio-economic themes occur both in central Bishkek and in other parts of the country. You should avoid all demonstrations.

    UZBEKISTAN

    Uzbekistan is generally a very safe place to travel. Policemen, or sometimes those pretending to be policemen, may seek to impose an on-the-spot fine. If you are any doubt you should ask for an ID or pay any fines at the nearest police station. Keep valuables out of sight and avoid unlit or remote areas. Avoid obvious displays of wealth, especially in rural areas. Avoid walking alone at night.

  • Map Itinerary

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Trip at a glance

Trip Code PCGS
Group size 4 - 15
Start City: Beijing
End City: Tashkent

What to know

Venturing well away from cities and remote areas, this trip takes you right off the beaten track. Accommodation and facilities may be basic but the rewards are immeasurable. A good level of fitness is required for this trip given the high altitudes.

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